ABC Afternoon Briefing – Taiwan, Solomon Islands, Jobs Summit



Subjects: Taiwan de-escalation, Pacific Minister and Solomon Islands, Jobs Summit

GREG JENNETT, HOST: For our political panel, we’re joined today by two veterans, if that’s the word, of the Parliament, or at least two individuals who think a lot on foreign policy and other fronts that much we can say. Labor’s Peter Khalil and Liberal MP Russell Broadbent are both joining us now from their respective bases there in Melbourne. Peter, why don’t we begin with you. I think you did watch or catch a fair portion of the Ambassador’s address today. What was your main takeout from him, about both aspects really. Australia bilateral relationship with Beijing, but also exactly what’s playing out around Taiwan?

PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: G’day Greg and Russell, just before I start, I would say you’ve aged me there, I’m yeah not quite as much of a veteran as Russell. He’s almost the father of the house. In his period of time. But look, the real point here is that there was a tale of two halves, almost Greg, in the sense that there wasn’t a lot of diplomatic niceties at the start of the speech where the Ambassador talked about the mutually beneficial aspects of our relationship, which we agree with 100%. In fact, it is in both Australia and China’s interests to stabilise the relationship and indeed that’s what our Government has been setting out to do assiduously since we formed Government, with the first Foreign Minister Foreign Minister meeting in three years, the first Defence Minister to Defence Minister meeting in three years. The first ministerial contact, frankly in three years. So, progress there and the reason we want to stabilise the relationship is because it is mutually beneficial. It’s an important economic relationship. Also, we don’t want to see an escalation of tension in the region or instability in the region because it’s not in anyone’s interest. It’s certainly not in our interests or our trading partners. It’s not in China’s interest either and that is I think, a view shared by most of the countries of the region. Where there are disagreements though, Greg, we will speak out in Australia’s national interests as we have done in the past, respectfully. But we will stand up and speak out on behalf of our country and our interests, and that that is right for the Foreign Minister and the acting Prime Minister, to point out that the response, the military activity in the Taiwan Strait has been disproportionate, it has been destabilising and it is important to calm tensions, and to deescalate, in order for us to try and normalise and stabilise the situation.

JENNETT: Yeah, you would expect them to say that I suppose Russell Broadbent. But what do you think Russell, the Ambassador was actually asking of the likes of our Defence Minister or our Foreign Minister for that matter? Do you think he was politely requesting we say a whole lot less than we have been on the question of Taiwan? 

RUSSELL BROADBENT, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR MONASH: Well, that may be the case, so I just want to recap on Peter for a moment, because although he hasn’t served the 23 years that I’ve served, Peter has been a very active member of the Parliament in many aspects of the Parliament. And you saw that from his response, then, which is a very good response. I think that if the Ambassador is looking to Australia and saying we’d like to have a reset of our relationship, I think that’s a very good place to start. Any negotiation is a good negotiation. It doesn’t matter what those things that bind us like the economic ties that are still strong between China and Australia. It’s very important that we are actively engaging always at every level we possibly can with any one of our neighbours, but especially with China, who is so important to us. We’ve got to find a way through these difficulties. 

JENNETT: But you wouldn’t do something. I know I’m paraphrasing him here, Russell, but you know, in effect it’s possible to interpret the Ambassador’s words as saying, please don’t make further written statements as you did jointly with the US and with Japan condemning our missile firings and our military exercises around Taiwan, the question Russell is, we wouldn’t pull our punches on that, would we? In order to advance trade and other bilateral aspects of that relationship. 

BROADBENT: Well, I think we should be very nuanced in the way we approach any country we’re dealing with. Having regard that sometimes their view of the world and their understanding of the world is different to ours. So therefore, we should be the ones that are ready to conciliate, ready to work with. Whether as Peter said, to bring about more understanding and a lessening of divisions between countries. 

JENNETT: What do you think, Peter? I mean, do you think the Ambassador was asking for that? I won’t say silence or acquiescence, but some more muted response by Australia, perhaps even Australia, as Russell suggests, being an intermediary, playing a conciliatory role so that the verbal responses to what they’ve been doing aren’t as loud as they have been. Do you think that’s where he was driving it?

KHALIL: Look, I think Greg there is an important principle at stake here and that is that the Australian Government and it has rightfully so, has spoken up in Australia’s national interests. We don’t want to see an escalation of attention in the region in the Taiwan Straits. There is a risk of miscalculation, which is problematic for all of us and that is heightened when you have these types of responses, this type of military activity in the Taiwan Straits. We are urging restraint and we are urging a calming of tensions because it’s in all of our interests to do so. But we’re not the only country saying that. There are multiple countries that are adding their voice to the chorus of countries saying that we should be urging restraint and there should be a calming of tensions. Now, Australia should be able to articulate through our Foreign Minister, our acting Prime Minister, our government, our position clearly and not be told what to say or how to say it by any other country, and I think the principle of non-interference is one that China has often talked about and respects dearly. It’s a reciprocal application. Frankly, we should be able to speak up on our interests and do so with our partners. 

JENNETT: Yeah, Russell, we’ve had analysts on this programme in recent days, obviously well attuned to what’s happening across the Taiwan Strait, suggesting as analysts do, that countries like the USA and Australia might have to have a deep rethink about what their stated One China policy actually means, because it may be necessary to accommodate Taiwan in more obvious ways than that statement or that phrase encapsulates. Do you think it’s time Russell for some sort of rethink about this time-honoured foreign policy that we’ve adopted? 

BROADBENT: No, I don’t think there’s a place for a rethink of where we’re at the moment. I think there is an opportunity though for us to know our place in the world. Respect China’s place in the world, respect America’s place in the world, respect India and all countries, Japan’s place in the world and understand where we sit in that whole process and then as we do that, our utterances and our nuanced responses should be in line with where we sit and how we’re seen by other countries as well as how we see ourselves. 

JENNET: Russell, do you think we’ve used the megaphone a bit too loudly, is that what you’re suggesting? 

BROADBENT: Well, there are those that think along that way and I can understand all points of view. I think we we’ve got to become listeners and know that other countries actually sometimes don’t have our Western way of going about things and we have to have regard for that when we’re speaking to them and especially when we’re speaking on the world stage. 

JENNETT: And what do you think of that approach, Peter? Because yeah, the South-East Asian countries our neighbours they would do that. They do exactly what Russell talking about and be somewhat more nuanced. 

KHALIL: I would hope that Russell own leader, the leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, would take his sage advice to be more diplomatic, to be more nuanced, because frankly, it has been Peter Dutton and elements of the opposition when they were in government who were escalating the rhetoric frankly, exacerbating the situation with a lot of talk about conflict and so on, which is not helpful at all. Frankly, our position, our One China policy has been a long-standing bipartisan policy. Our government has not changed position on that. We continue to call for peaceful dialogue with respect to Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits and that is something that that hasn’t changed. We haven’t changed, our national interests haven’t changed and we’re taking a responsible path in trying to navigate a way forward where we can calm tensions, deescalate the situation and normalise relationships because it’s to our benefit and it’s frankly something that was not being done by the previous Government and the current leader of the Opposition. In fact, they used foreign policy issues like this and national security issues for domestic political point scoring. They ramped up the rhetoric and it was very, very unhelpful and I think destabilising. So yes, of course we need to call out and stand up for our national interests, but we’ve got to do it in a responsible way and working with our partners in the region that you’ve alluded to.

JENNETT: We’ll move on. There’s obviously plenty of food for thought that Ambassador Xiou has given us today and I guess we’ll be talking about that for a while. Before we come back to domestic politics, just one other matter that’s happened in the region we’ve spoken so much in recent months about, Solomon Islands. And now you know, Australia is considering you know what aid it might give to elections in the context in which Prime Minister Sogavare seeks to extend his term. Russell Broadbent, anything to worry Australia and its foreign policy in the Pacific by virtue of Prime Minister manoeuvring there. 

BROADBENT: Greg, we have to work very carefully with what’s happening in a sovereign country. I learned that lesson with South Africa and Zimbabwe a long time ago when I mentioned to a South African what are they doing about Zimbabwe and copped an absolute belting in public. Because what I had said, because we are not the responsibility of another sovereign nation, that we can step in and say well look here we are, we’re Australian, we can tell you what to do that is not the truth we can’t. So, they have to work out their own destiny themselves and that’s on a day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year process Greg. 

JENNETT: Yep, and Peter just on that, the extension by Prime Minister Sogavare, or for that matter an involvement by Australia to assist the smooth functioning of an election process. What do you think of either of those? 

KHALIL: A couple of points on that. The bill that you’re referring to, we’ve sought assurances that this is a one off. There is the Pacific Games which is occurring and the elections as you mentioned, our Minister Pat Conroy has said he would consider any requests for assistance with respect to the election itself. In fact, we have assisted and continue to assist through the Australian Electoral Commission and provide resources and funding and support for Solomon Islands in their election cycles and so on. And the work that’s necessary and of course, we’d be very open to any request for further assistance to ensure that those elections go ahead smoothly. The UN is also providing support to the Solomon Islands and significant funding, so that is important because our engagement with the Solomon Islands and I respect what Russ says about non-interference. Our engagement is really about supporting civic society, supporting democracy, supporting democratic institutions with our Pacific partners and that is really critically important in the best interest for the people of Solomon Islands as well. And that’s something that we’re very committed to in this government. As you’ve seen Penny Wong, our Foreign Minister make strong commitments to our Pacific partners over the last couple of months in her visits there. 

JENNETT: Yeah, well. If there’s one thing that Australia does well and is renowned for, its smooth functioning elections, I suppose. Just quickly and finally bringing it back to domestic politics. Russell to you, your leader or the Coalition more generally has said you will sit out this jobs summit that’s being called for early September. No great interest. Are you comfortable with that? 

BROADBENT: Well after look, just after winning the 1961 election, Menzies said to one of his other members of Parliament who said Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Prime Minister, these are Labor policies you’re introducing and he said yes, they’re very good and we will be introducing them. So not all the best ideas come from one side or other of politics. In my case, I wouldn’t have ruled out the process that the Government’s going through. We have some terrible problems, even in our own electorates where we have the old hack programme, it’s got a new name now, probably community service programme, whatever it is. Where agencies are saying that they have, they can get the facilities for older people to be looked after in their own home, but in fact the service is not available because the agencies don’t have any staff. They’re still taking the money from Government. They’re still saying the service is available, but nothing is available and the system is collapsing. There’s a whole lot of issues from those little issues, the big issues that could be addressed at this summit.  

JENNETT: Yeah, alright Peter. Over to you last one.

KHALIL: Can I just say I think Russ might have been there in 1961 when the Prime Minister Menzies was speaking, no disrespect Russ, you’ve got a lot of experience. We should get an invite out to Russ to join the Job Summit because frankly, it’s ridiculous. The Opposition wanted to come to this. In fact, a month ago Angus Taylor says he’s really keen on coming now, they’re saying they don’t want to come and they’re saying they’re not going to attend the Job Summit. It’s really short sighted. This is a historic bringing together of the very important elements of Australian society: employers, unions, business, governments of all levels to work on problems that we are facing, some of which Russ’s has talked about. And so, it is very short sighted by the Opposition and they’re playing political games with it. I’m pleased to hear Russ wants to come. I’m going to ask the PM to give you a special invitation, Russell. 

JENNETT: All right, you heard it here first. A special invitation for Russell Broadbent.

BROADBENT: Thank you very much, that’s a great help, Peter. 

JENNETT: And a redefinition of whatever the term veteran means these days. Peter Khalil, Russel Broadbent.

BROADBENT: Remember Greg, a lot of good things come out of these summits. That are actually on the side of the summit, not in the middle of it.

JENNETT: That is so true. Peter Khalil, Russel Broadbent, thank you for joining us today.

KHALIL: Thanks Greg, thanks Russ. 

BROADBENT: Thanks very much.